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Theatre Review: Local Hero ***

Michael Cox reviews 'an enjoyable night out' that still feels like a missed opportunity.

Local Hero is a very enjoyable night out. There is no denying that. It’s a nostalgic, comforting hug of a production, intent on pleasing more than making one think. And as it’s fairly reverential to the classic 80s film it is based on, fans should know exactly what they are getting.

For those not familiar with the film, the story follows Mac, a Texas wheeler-and-dealer for a major American oil company that has its eye set on a small Scottish town it wants to buy in order to build a refinery. But Mac becomes enticed by the town and starts to see worth, worth that many of the locals seem keen to forgo in order to cash out for a better life.

The story might be a bit slight but the original film had confident direction and a collection of winning performances—as does the musical. John Crowley’s production looks terrific and has many fun flourishes throughout. The design is great and the staging is constantly engaging.

Crowley also has gotten some terrific performances, particularly with his leads. Damian Humbley’s Mac is a believable convert from business cynicism to champion, Julian Forsyth’s ‘I know more than I let on’ loveable local Ben is a constant delight and Katrina Bryan has some of the best dramatic moments as Glaswegian Stella. But the star of the evening is Matthew Pidgeon, whose Gordon is the most compelling character: a local businessman who’s happy to take on Big Oil single-handedly to squeeze as much as he can—for the community and himself.

And yet, the biggest flaw is the aspect that should be the production’s greatest asset: the music. The vast majority of Mark Knopfler’s songs are forgettable ditties that do little to further plot or character and more often than not manage to simply pad out a production that’s already too long. Some numbers work well enough to be enjoyed, but only one number, Gordon’s triumphant ‘Filthy Dirty Rich’, manages to create a theatrical moment that encompasses the strengths of musical theatre. It’s a thrilling scene, brilliantly sold by Pidgeon and the ensemble, that shows what this production can be.

But it’s only one moment. The rest of the production feels like a missed opportunity, a show that has great potential but just hasn’t made good on it yet. With development (and much better songs), this could become a terrific production. But as it stands, Local Hero is enjoyable enough. But for a show that appears to have large ambitions for its future, ‘enjoyable enough’ just isn’t enough.

Local Hero runs at the Royal Lyceum until May 4th.

Tags: theatre

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